Vino de Jerez, or Sherry as we know it best, is a fortified wine from the Jerez region of Spain. For wine from this area to be given the name Sherry is has to be produced within the small triangular area identified as the province of Cadiz which is located between Jerez, El Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlucar de Barrameda. This particular wine is different to other wines due to the way it is treated following the process of fermentation. Upon the completion of fermentation, brandy is added to the wine which fortifies it. Sherries in their natural form are dry to taste and the sweetness is added after the fortifying has taken place.
Since the introduction of wine making in Spain, way back in Phoenician times around 1100 BC, the Jerez area has been a centre of viniculture. This practice continued during the time the Romans were in control of Iberia in 200BC. Distillation was introduced in 711AD when the Moors conquered the region, and this resulted in brandy and fortified wines being developed.
The names Jerez and Sherry both came from the Arabic word “Sherish” which was the name of the town during Moorish rule. There is often some confusion here with the city of Shiraz, located in mid-southern Iran and some people think that this is where the sherry styles of wine originated from.
The fact that alcohol as a drink is strictly banned in the Qur’an, the Islamic book of divine guidance and direction for Muslims, the production of wine carried on throughout five hundred years of Islamic rule. The vineyards were ordered to be destroyed in 966 by the Caliph of Cordoba Al-Hakam II but the locals of the area appealed against this command, using the fact that the vineyards were also the source of the raisins which fed the soldiers of the empire. The Caliph then made the decision not to destroy two thirds of the vineyards so the raisin growing could continue.
The city’s name was changed to Xeres when Alfonso X of Castile took over in 1264 and following on from that the spelling of the town was adjusted from Xerez and lastly to Jerez, as it is known today. At this time Sherry was produced in the area and exported to all parts of Europe in hugely increasing amounts and by the end of the 16th century, Sherry had earned its excellent reputation as the world’s finest wine.
Sherry travels well by sea and it’s a known fact that as well as Christopher Columbus having a supply of Sherry on his journey to the New World, Ferdinand Magellan, spent more money on Sherry than he did on weapons, when he made his preparations to sail around the world in the early 1500’s. Francis Drake, upon destroying the fleet about to set sail from Cadiz to attack England in 1587, managed to salvage over two thousand nine hundred barrels of Sherry from the supplies waiting to be loaded onto the Spanish ships and from this point Sherry became a very popular in Great Britain.
Due to the fact that Sherry was a major wine export to the UK, English companies and styles were created and many of the Jerez cellars were established by families from Britain.
As in the case of many Spanish vineyards, those in the Jerez region were totally destroyed by phylloxera in 1894, and although several of them were replanted with resistant vines, there were a number of small vineyards which did not make it through this infestation.
With an average annual temperature of 18°C, only 70 days of rainfall and nearly 300 days of sunshine each year, the climate of the Jerez district is predictable. Dry and hot summers see temperatures up to 40°C with ocean winds bringing moisture to the vineyards early in the morning which is retained by the clays in the soil.
As far as soil is concerned, there are three different kinds in the Jerez region used for Sherry grape growing. The lightest of them all is Albariza which is almost white in colour and ideal for growing Palomino grapes. A more or less half and half mix of chalk along with limestone, clay and sand, this soil preserves moisture well in the summer months. By law, 40 per cent of the grapes going into Sherry making have to be grown in this type of soil. This soil has the advantage of reflecting the sunlight back up to the vine, and therefore assists the photosynthesis process. The fine soil absorbs and makes the most of the small amount of rainfall in the area. The dark brown soil known as Barros has around ten percent chalk and a high content of clay and the yellowish coloured soil, Arenas, again has ten percent chalk and a high sand content. These last two varieties of soil are used mainly for Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel grape growing.
There are now only three grapes grown for Sherry making in this region. Around 90 percent of the grapes grown specifically for dry Sherries are called Palomino which produces a rather bland and uninteresting table wine. However, this neutrality is perfect as it is very easily enhanced by the sherry wine-making style. Pedro Ximenez is the grape used to make sweet wines and the sugars are concentrated by allowing the grapes to dry in the sun for two days when harvested. The third grape is Moscatel, which is less common than the Pedro Ximenez but used in a similar way.
Harvested in early September, the Palomino grapes are lightly pressed and the must from the first pressing only is used to make Sherry. The products of any additional pressings are used in the production of lesser wines and vinegar. The Sherry must is fermented in steel vats for a further two months and the end result is a dry white wine containing between 11 and 12 per cent alcohol. Following fermentation classification takes place and casks are marked according to the potential of the wine by the following symbols.
- A single stroke says the wine is of the finest flavor and aroma, and ideal to be used for fino or amontillado which is fortified to around 15 percent alcohol content.
- A heavier more full bodied wine is shown by a single stroke and a dot. These are fortified to 17.5 per cent alcohol and aged oxidatively to produce oloroso.
- A double stroke indicates that the wine has to be allowed to develop further before deciding whether or not it can be used for amontillado or oloroso. These wines are likely to be fortified to around 15 percent.
- Wine which has not developed as it should will be marked with a triple stroke and will then be distilled.
Sherry is usually fortified using destillado, from La Mancha and the distilled spirit is blended with sherry on a 50/50 basis. This blend is then mixed with a younger sherry until the proper proportions are achieved. It is done this way to stop the strong alcohol shocking the young Sherry and spoiling it. The fortified product is then stored in huge casks made of North American oak, which tends to be a little more porous than Spanish and French oak. They are then left to allow the flor to develop on the surface of the wine.
Sherry is aged in the solera system for a minimum period of three years. This is where a portion of the wine from one barrel is transferred to the next barrel down and tools are used to move the wine gently without any detriment to the forming layer of flor in each barrel.
You will be pleased to know that once bottled this tasty little number can be enjoyed immediately as there are no further benefits to be gained from further ageing. Having said this, Sherry can also be stored for years in a cool and dry place without losing any of its flavour.
This full day excursion begins in Seville where you’ll be met by your English speaking driver/guide who is a specialist on the food and wines of Andalucia. He will drive you the 85km south to Jerez de la Frontera, the sherry capital of the world.
The town of Jerez is famous for its school of dancing horses, its flamenco dancers and its wines. On this tour you will learn about the sherry-making process from an expert at one of our selected bodegas (wineries) and you’ll be able to taste the variety of wines produced in the city. You will also find out how sherry vinegar and Jerez brandy are made and will also get the chance to sample some high quality local brandies.